Harbin (Manchu: ᡥᠠᠯᠪᡳᠨ (Harbin-manchu.png); Chinese: 哈尔滨 About this soundHā’ěrbīn) is a sub-provincial city and the provincial capital of Heilongjiang province, People’s Republic of China, as well as the second largest city by urban population and largest city by metropolitan population (urban and rural together) in Northeast China. Harbin has direct jurisdiction over nine metropolitan districts, two county-level cities and seven counties, and is the eighth most populous Chinese city according to the 2010 census, the built-up area (which consists of all districts except Shuangcheng and Acheng) had 5,282,093 inhabitants, while the total metropolitan population was up to 10,635,971. Harbin serves as a key political, economic, scientific, cultural and communications hub in Northeast China, as well as an important industrial base of the nation.
Harbin, whose name was originally a Manchu word meaning “a place for drying fishing nets”, grew from a small rural settlement on the Songhua River to become one of the largest cities in Northeast China. Founded in 1898 with the coming of the Chinese Eastern Railway, the city first prospered as a region inhabited by an overwhelming majority of immigrants from the Russian Empire.
With its often harsh winters, Harbin is heralded as the Ice City for its well-known winter tourism and recreations. Harbin is notable for its beautiful ice sculpture festival in the winter. Besides being well known for its historical Russian legacy, the city serves as an important gateway in Sino-Russian trade today. In the 1920s, the city was considered China’s fashion capital since new designs from Paris and Moscow reached here first before arriving in Shanghai. The city was voted “China Top Tourist City” by the China National Tourism Administration in 2004.
Human settlement in the Harbin area dates from at least 2200 BC during the late Stone Age. Wanyan Aguda, the founder and first emperor (reigned 1115-1123) of the Jin dynasty (1115-1234), was born in the Jurchen Wanyan tribes who resided near the Ashi River in this region. In AD 1115 Aguda established Jin’s capital Shangjing (Upper Capital) Huining Prefecture in today’s Acheng District of Harbin. After Aguda’s death, the new emperor Wanyan Sheng ordered the construction of a new city on a uniform plan. The planning and construction emulated major Chinese cities, in particular Bianjing (Kaifeng), although the Jin capital was smaller than its Northern Song prototype. Huining Prefecture served as the first superior capital of the Jin empire until Wanyan Liang (the fourth emperor of Jin Dynasty) moved the capital to Yanjing (now Beijing) in 1153. Liang even went so far as to destroy all palaces in his former capital in 1157. Wanyan Liang’s successor Wanyan Yong (Emperor Shizong) restored the city and established it as a secondary capital in 1173. Ruins of the Shangjing Huining Prefecture were discovered and excavated about 2 km (1.2 mi)from present-day Acheng’s central urban area. The site of the old Jin capital ruins is a national historic reserve, and includes the Jin Dynasty History Museum. The museum, open to the public, was renovated in late 2005. Mounted statues of Aguda and of his chief commander Wanyan Zonghan (also Nianhan) stand in the grounds of the museum. Many of the artifacts found there are on display in nearby Harbin.
After the Mongol conquest of the Jin Empire (1211-1234), Huining Prefecture was abandoned. In the 17th century, the Manchus used building materials from Huining Prefecture to construct their new stronghold in Alchuka. The region of Harbin remained largely rural until the 1800s, with over ten villages and about 30,000 people in the city’s present-day urban districts by the end of the 19th century.
A small village in 1898 grew into the modern city of Harbin. Polish engineer Adam Szydłowski drew plans for the city following the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway, which the Russian Empire had financed. The Russians selected Harbin as the base of their administration over this railway and the Chinese Eastern Railway Zone. The railways were largely constructed by Russian engineers and indentured workers. The Chinese Eastern Railway extended the Trans-Siberian Railway: substantially reducing the distance from Chita to Vladivostok and also linking the new port city of Dalny (Dalian) and the Russian Naval Base Port Arthur (Lüshun). The settlement founded by the Russian-owned Chinese Eastern Railway quickly turned into a “boomtown,” growing into a city within five years. The majority of the Russians who settled in Harbin came from southern Russia, and the dialect of Russian spoken in Harbin was derivative of the dialect of Russian spoken in Odessa. In addition there were many Ukrainians, Jews, Poles, Georgians, and Tatars,
The city was intended as a showcase for Russian imperialism in Asia and the American scholar Simon Karlinsky who was born in Harbin in 1924 into a Russian Jewish family wrote that in Harbin: “the buildings, boulevards, and parks were planned—well before the October Revolution—by distinguished Russian architects and also by Swiss and Italian town planners”, giving the city a very European appearance. Starting in the late 19th century, a mass influx of Han Chinese arrived in Manchuria, and taking advantage of the rich soils, founded farms which soon turned Manchuria into the “breadbasket of China” while others went to work in the mines and factories of Manchuria, which become one of the first regions of China to industrialize. Harbin became one of the main points through which food and industrial products were shipped out of Manchuria. A sign of Harbin’s wealth was that a theater had established during its first decade and in 1907 the play K zvezdam by Leonid Andreyev had its premiere there.
During the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05), Russia used Harbin as its base for military operations in Manchuria. Following Russia’s defeat, its influence declined. Several thousand nationals from 33 countries, including the United States, Germany, and France, moved to Harbin. Sixteen countries established consulates to serve their nationals, who established several hundred industrial, commercial and banking companies. Churches were rebuilt for Russian Orthodox, Lutheran/German Protestant, and Polish Catholic Christians. Chinese capitalists also established businesses, especially in brewing, food and textiles. Harbin became the economic hub of northeastern China and an international metropolis.
The rapid growth of the city challenged the public healthcare system. The worst-ever recorded outbreak of pneumonic plague was spread to Harbin through the Trans-Manchurian railway from the border trade port of Manzhouli. The plague lasted from late autumn of 1910 to spring 1911 and killed 1,500 Harbin residents (mostly ethnic Chinese), or about five percent of its population at the time. This turned out to be the beginning of the large pneumonic plague pandemic of Manchuria and Mongolia which ultimately claimed 60,000 victims. In the winter of 1910, Dr. Wu Lien-teh (later the founder of Harbin Medical University) was given instructions from the Foreign Office, Peking, to travel to Harbin to investigate the plague. Dr. Wu asked for imperial sanction to cremate plague victims, as cremation of these infected victims turned out to be the turning point of the epidemic. The suppression of this plague pandemic changed medical progress in China. Bronze statues of Dr. Wu Lien-teh are built in Harbin Medical University to remember his contributions in promoting public health, preventive medicine and medical education.
The first generation of Harbin Russians were mostly the builders and employees of the Chinese Eastern Railway. They moved to Harbin in order to work on the railroad. At the time Harbin was not an established city. The city was almost built from scratch by the builders and early settlers. Houses were constructed, furniture and personal items were brought in from Russia. After the plague epidemic, Harbin’s population continued to increase sharply, especially inside the Chinese Eastern Railway Zone. In 1913 the Chinese Eastern Railway census showed its ethnic composition as: Russians – 34313, Chinese (that is, including Hans, Manchus etc.) – 23537, Jews – 5032, Poles – 2556, Japanese – 696, Germans – 564, Tatars – 234, Latvians – 218, Georgians – 183, Estonians – 172, Lithuanians – 142, Armenians – 124; there were also Karaims, Ukrainians, Bashkirs, and some Western Europeans. In total, 68549 citizens of 53 nationalities, speaking 45 languages. Research shows that only 11.5 percent of all residents were born in Harbin. By 1917, Harbin’s population exceeded 100,000, with over 40,000 of them were ethnic Russians.
After Russia’s Great October Socialist Revolution in November 1917, more than 100,000 defeated Russian White Guards and refugees retreated to Harbin, which became a major center of White Russian émigrés and the largest Russian enclave outside the Soviet Union. Karlinsky noted that a major difference with the Russian émigrés who arrived in Harbin was: “Unlike the Russian émigrés who went to Paris or Prague or even to Shanghai, the new residents of Harbin were not a minority surrounded by a foreign population. They found themselves instead in an almost totally Russian city, populated mainly by people with roots in the south of European Russia.” The city had a Russian school system, as well as publishers of Russian-language newspapers and journals. Russian Harbintsy[a] community numbered around 120,000 at its peak in the early 1920s. Many of Harbin’s Russians were wealthy, which sometime confused foreign visitors who expected them to be poor, with for instance the American writer Harry A. Franck in his 1923 book Wanderings in North China writing the Russian “ladies as well gowned as at the Paris races [who] strolled with men faultlessly garbed by European standards”, leading him to wonder how they had achieved this “deceptive appearance”.”
The Harbin Institute of Technology was established in 1920 as the Harbin Sino-Russian School for Industry to educate railway engineers via a Russian method of instruction. Students could select from two majors at the time: Railway Construction or Electric Mechanic Engineering. On April 2, 1922, the school was renamed the Sino-Russian Industrial University. The original two majors eventually developed into two major departments: the Railway Construction Department and the Electric Engineering Department. Between 1925 and 1928 the University’s Rector was Leonid Aleksandrovich Ustrugov, the Russian Deputy Minister of Railways under Nicholas II before the Russian Revolution, Minister of Railways under Admiral Kolchak’s government, and a key figure in the development of the Chinese Eastern Railway.
The Russian community in Harbin made it their mission to preserve the pre-revolutionary culture of Russia. The city had numerous Russian language newspapers, journals, libraries, theaters and two opera companies. One of the famous Russian poets in Harbin was Valery Pereleshin, who started publishing his intensely homoerotic poetry in 1937, and was also one of the few Russian writers in Harbin who learned Mandarin. The subject of Pereleshin’s poetry caused problems with the Russian Fascist Party, and led Pereelshin leaving Harbin for Shanghai, and ultimately to the United States. Not all of the Russian newspapers were of high quality, with Karlinsky calling Nash put’, the newspaper of the Russian Fascist Party “the lowest example of gutter journalism that Harbin had ever seen”. Nikolai Baikov, a Russian writer in Harbin was known for his novels of exile life in that city together with his accounts of his travels across Manchuria and the folklore of its Manchu and Chinese population. Boris Yulsky, a young Russian writer who published his short stories in the newspaper Rubezh was considered to be a promising writer whose career was cut short when he gave up literature for activism in the Russian Fascist Party and cocaine addiction. Moya-tvoya (mine – yours), a pidgin language that was a combination of Russian and Mandarin Chinese that had developed in the 19th century when Chinese went to work in Siberia, was considered essential by the Chinese business people of Harbin.
In the early 1920s, according to Chinese scholars’ recent studies, over 20,000 Jews lived in Harbin. After 1919, Dr. Abraham Kaufman played a leading role in Harbin’s large Russian Jewish community. The Republic of China discontinued diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1920, so many Russians found themselves stateless. When the Chinese Eastern Railway and government in Beijing announced in 1924 that they agreed the railroad would only employ Russian or Chinese nationals, the emigres were forced to announce their ethnic and political allegiance. Most accepted Soviet citizenship.
Harbin was among one of the key construction cities of China during the First Five-Year Plan period from 1951 to 1956. 13 of the 156 key construction projects were aid-constructed by the Soviet Union in Harbin. This project made Harbin an important industrial base of China. During the Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1961, Harbin experienced a very tortuous development course as several Sino-Soviet contracts were cancelled by the Soviet Union. During the Cultural Revolution many foreign and Christian things were uprooted, such as the St. Nicholas church which was destroyed by Red Guards in 1966. On 23 August 1966, the Red Guards stormed into St. Nicholas Cathedral, burned its icons on the streets while chanting xenophobic slogans before destroying St. Nicholas Cathedral. As the normal economic and social order was seriously disrupted, Harbin’s economy also suffered from serious setbacks. One of the main reasons of this setback is with its Soviet ties deteriorating and the Vietnam War escalating, China became concerned of a possible nuclear attack. Mao Zedong ordered an evacuation of military and other key state enterprises away from the northeastern frontier, with Harbin being the core zone of this region, bordering the Soviet Union. During this Third Front Development Era of China, several major factories of Harbin were relocated to Southwestern Provinces including Gansu, Sichuan, Hunan and Guizhou, where they would be strategically secure in the event of a possible war. Some major universities of China were also moved out of Harbin, including Harbin Military Academy of Engineering (predecessor of Changsha’s National University of Defense Technology) and Harbin Institute of Technology (Moved to Chongqing in 1969 and relocated to Harbin in 1973).
National economy and social service have obtained significant achievements since the Chinese economic reform first introduced in 1979. Harbin holds the China Harbin International economic and Trade Fair each year since 1990. Harbin once housed one of the largest Jewish communities in the Far East before World War II. It reached its peak in the mid-1920s when 25,000 European Jews lived in the city. Among them were the parents of Ehud Olmert, the former Prime Minister of Israel. In 2004, Olmert came to Harbin with an Israeli trade delegation to visit the grave of his grandfather in Huang Shan Jewish Cemetery, which had over 500 Jewish graves identified.
On 5 October 1984, Harbin was designated a sub-provincial city by the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee. The eight counties of Harbin originally formed part of Songhuajiang Prefecture whose seat was practically located inside the urban area of Harbin since 1972. The prefecture was officially merged into Harbin city on 11 August 1996, increasing Harbin’s total population to 9.47 million.
Harbin hosted the third Asian Winter Games in 1996. In 2009, Harbin held the XXIV Winter Universiade.
Harbin, with a total land area of 53,068 km2 (20,490 sq mi), is located in southern Heilongjiang province and is the provincial capital. The prefecture is also located at the southeastern edge of the Songnen Plain, a major part of China’s Northeastern Plain. The city center also sits on the southern bank of the middle Songhua River. Harbin received its nickname The pearl on the swan’s neck, since the shape of Heilongjiang resembles a swan. Its administrative area is rather large with latitude spanning 44° 04′−46° 40′ N, and longitude 125° 42′−130° 10′ E. Neighbouring prefecture-level cities are Yichun to the north, Jiamusi and Qitaihe to the northeast, Mudanjiang to the southeast, Daqing to the west, and Suihua to the northwest. On its southwestern boundary is Jilin province. The main terrain of the city is generally flat and low-lyling, with an average elevation of around 150 metres (490 ft). However, the territory that comprises the 10 county-level divisions in the eastern part of the municipality consists of mountains and uplands. The easternmost part of Harbin prefecture also has extensive wetlands, mainly in Yilan County which is located at the southwestern edge of the Sanjiang Plain.
Under the Köppen climate classification, Harbin features a monsoon-influenced, humid continental climate (Dwa). Due to the Siberian high and its location above 45 degrees north latitude, the city is known for its cold weather and long winter. Its nickname Ice City is well-earned, as winters here are dry and freezing cold, with a 24-hour average in January of only −17.6 °C (0.3 °F), although the city sees little precipitation during the winter and is often sunny. Spring and autumn constitute brief transition periods with variable wind directions. Summers can be hot, with a July mean temperature of 23.1 °C (73.6 °F). Summer is also when most of the year’s rainfall occurs, and more than half of the annual precipitation, at 538 millimetres (21.2 in), occurs in July and August alone. With monthly percent possible sunshine ranging from 52 percent in December to 63 percent in March, the city receives 2,571 hours of bright sunshine annually; on average precipitation falls 104 days out of the year. The annual mean temperature is +4.86 °C (40.7 °F), and extreme temperatures have ranged from −42.6 °C (−45 °F) to 39.2 °C (103 °F). Harbin is probably the coldest city in the world with >10,000,000 population.